The number of elderly citizens being abused at facilities built to aid them has increased fivefold over the past five years, a government report showed Monday, raising concerns about the well-being of elderly patients.
Last year, 251 cases of abuse of the elderly occurred in facilities such as nursing homes, sanatoriums and hospitals for the elderly, according to a report by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the ministry-affiliated Korea Elder Protection Agency. The figure surged for the fourth straight year since 55 cases were tallied in 2008.
It accounted for about 7.1 percent of the total number of cases of ill-treatment of senior citizens in Korea. About 78.4 percent of the perpetrators were staff members, but 13.6 percent were family members.
In April, a hospital in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, came under scrutiny after it filed charges against one of its caretakers for allegedly beating a 90-year-old woman.
Neglect was the most common form of mistreatment at 37.1 percent, while 24.5 percent and 22.8 percent of the victims were emotionally or physically abused, respectively. Many of the victims ― 31.9 percent ― experienced maltreatment for one year or more, and 28.7 percent were abused every day.
The report showed that seniors suffering from senile dementia were more susceptible than others to cruelty in facilities. Throughout the country, 23.6 percent of the dementia patients were subject to abuse, but the number jumped to 61.8 percent among institutionalized patients.
Many of the facilities did not have sufficient measures to prevent accidents, according to Seoul officials, who said that 163 cases of violations of mandated safety measures were revealed in a recent probe.
Rampant abuse coupled with poor safety measures is often a recipe for disaster, as demonstrated by a recent arson attack on a hospital for the elderly.
In May, an 81-year-old man started a fire at a hospital in Jangseong, South Jeolla Province, that killed 21 and left eight injured. In a shocking twist, some of the patients ― including the arsonist ― were found to have been admitted against their will.
More abuse was hinted at when firefighters found evidence of physical restraints on some of the dead bodies, suggesting that the patients had been unable to escape because they were tied to their beds at the time of the incident.
Despite the surge in abuse cases, many more are left undiscovered due to the victims’ physical and mental condition.
“It is easier for these facilities to cover up abuses in these facilities. Because such cases can bring devastating effects on the well-being of the victims, authorities must swiftly come up with countermeasures,” the report said.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)